Jennifer Wolff and Elizabeth Sporkin
July 18, 1991 12:00 PM

Sometimes the part is greater than the whole. When it is, it’s worth money—$100,000 a year or more to flaunt a gold watch on a flawless wrist, ease panty hose onto a shapely leg, rub cellulite cream into a cellulite-free derriere.—Does it take talent? “No, no talent,” says John Carthay, today’s leading male hand model. He’s too modest. A parts model has to give a persuasive performance: hold the bagel aloft so that you want to eat it, and do so, take after tiring take, with suppleness and precision. “A hand model who is not coordinated can cost $20,000 in overtime,” says one commercial director.—Take a look at your hands. Now think of your feet. Bumps, bruises, scratches, right? To a parts model that means instant unemployment. Hand models even sleep in gloves, foot models shuffle around in oversize sneakers. It’s a frustrating way of life.—Hardly anyone sets out to be a parts model. John Carthay was working for a photographer who one day needed a fill-in and noticed Carthay’s pristine paws. Pat Tilley was a New Jersey teen who dreamed of being a cover girl. She got little encouragement until a modeling agent spied her smooth, slender hands and practically swooned. “What about the rest of me?” she moaned. But Tilley became a standard setter, almost single-handedly raising the pay scale from $40 an hour to $312.50.—Parts, unlike faces, are almost indistinguishable and infinitely repeatable, so a few superstars dominate the field. Carthay recently got a call from someone who wanted to break into the business. “It’s hard to explain how to start,” he says, “and counterproductive for me, because I don’t want competition. I’ve heard maybe I can do this until I’m 60.”


Perfect hands she dare not use

“If the Venus de Milo had hands,” a photographer once said, “they’d be Pat Tilley’s.”

Christie Brinkley, Kim Alexis, Cheryl Tiegs and Lauren Hutton may have the faces, but Tilley has the hands, and she has doubled for their dubious digits in many ads. “Sometimes when Patty has been introduced to fashion models,” says her husband, Bruce, a microbiologist, “the first thing they do is put their hands in their pockets.”

She’s ethereal as a willow, but the 41-year-old dean of hand models (left and below) talks with a gun-slinger’s braggadocio. “No one has this porcelain skin texture,” she asserts. “I defy anyone to put their hands next to mine and be as smooth…. Part of my appeal, too, is that my hands appear almost boneless. Some people have asked me if I’m alive.”

Sometimes Tilley might wonder about this herself. She does not shake hands (Bruce, a tight end in high school, intercepts for her). She won’t cook or use a knife. In restaurants she won’t break her own bread. She pulls on boots with pliers and opens pull-tabs on soda cans with the end of a spoon. “I’ll suffocate before I’ll open a window,” she says. She lives in slip-ons. “I avoid zippers and buttons whenever I can. At times,” she confides, “I sort of regret that I have the hands.”

She won’t even allow herself to get down and drooly with her 11-month-old son, Augie. Recently she let the teething tyke suck on her finger. He bit down and broke a nail. No more of that. “He comes first, but it’s difficult,” Tilley says. “I do things for him, but I’m doing them, I would almost say, with reluctance.”

Even Bruce has to be careful. If he’s feeling romantic, can he take his wife’s hand? “Let’s put it this way,” he says. “My hand is there for her to hold.” Her income ($125,000 at its peak in the mid-’80s) put him through his Ph.D. program at Rutgers. To stay close to her Manhattan assignments, they live in New Jersey. He has turned down several promising jobs in the Midwest. “I have to pattern everything to where Patty is going to be working,” he says. One day she will retire, and then they will be able to lead a normal life. “I think it’s going to take a while to undo all the conditioning,” she says.


Revenge of the toothpicks

“I grew up skinny and self-conscious,” she admits. “I went to Catholic school, wore uniforms. I had a complex about my legs being skinny. It’s nice that it’s paying off today.” Felber’s 28-year-old gams now pull down $80,000 per annum. “The best part about this kind of modeling is that you don’t have to worry if you’re not feeling well that day.” Legs don’t go achoo.


Go ahead, shake his $500,000 paw

Unlike most of his peers, Carthay knows no fear. “I don’t let being a hand model stop me from anything,” he says. “I garden. I sail. And I always shake hands.” But he finds that many people are reluctant to return the gesture, lest they crunch those magnificent mitts. “They are aware,” he says with a smile, “of the very litigious model of today.”

Carthay, a 1971 graduate of C.W. Post College, does draw the line at working on his Lincoln Town Car. “I can’t get the grease out,” he explains. And he tries to avoid bruises under the nails, which can take six months to grow out. To protect himself against more permanent damage, he bought a $500,000 policy. “I’m insured for disability,” he notes. “It’s not set up so I can go out and smash my thumbs and live forever happily.”

Known for doing his own manicures, Carthay arrives at jobs—Piaget at left, Dunkin’ Donuts bagels, above—toting a zippered bag bulging with lotions, creams and tools. He is particularly concerned with his cuticles, creaming them at night and pushing them down frequently with an orangewood stick. “If you have a bad cuticle,” he says, “you lose the job.” He relies on Sally Hansen Nail Therapy to remoisten nails dried by studio lights. Mortician’s wax smooths over superficial gouges. “The wax is made for cold bodies,” he says, “so when the lights warm it up, we have to shoot quickly.”


A top bottom, a rich bottom line

“My tush is on the toilet like everyone else’s,” she says. “They see 95 trillion beautiful asses a day. What makes them choose mine? I don’t know. It just happens.” The 24-year-old New Yorker earned $8,000 in two days as Julia Roberts‘s body double in Sleeping with the Enemy. She was once painted red for a Ferrari ad. When she washed it off, “my bathroom looked like something out of The Shining.”


Bert & Ernie in Silicone Valley

She snagged $70,000 as a parts model last year, but Hane, 23, yearned for something more. Breasts, to be exact. “I was like a B minus,” she says. “I was looking at a Victoria’s Secret catalog, and those girls are not a B minus. It was like, I want those.’ ”

So Hane invested $7,000 in having her breasts enlarged from a 34B to a 34C. Her boyfriend at the time publicly dubbed the new larger-than-life duo Bert and Ernie. Now she gets calls that “Bert and Ernie have a booking.” Minutes before an audition, she munches corn chips, believing the salt will pump up B&E even further.

“Every once in a while, I get a little pang of envy that my face is not on the cover of Cosmopolitan,” Hane admits. “But there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m like Miss Botticelli Face. My face was popular around 1480. Christie Brinkley I’m not.”

Hane says she got into modeling—after she graduated from high school—for one reason: “Greed, greed, greed, baby.” She concedes, “It’s not the most profound career,” but she has a professional’s pride. “I’m going to give you the damned best, because you are paying me an obscene amount of money. Laugh all you want. I’m going to laugh myself all the way to the bank. Believe me,” she says smugly, “that speech shuts up more than a few guys.”


On one gig he saw the Almighty

“To be No. 1 in the world at something is a rush,” declares a man who has known the feeling. Laurence White knew he wanted to model since his adolescence, when he saw the “smiling faces and happy homes [in magazine ads]. It was very different from what I knew.” White, who says he was physically abused by his father, became a Landlubber jeans kid at 14 and worked for 12 years as a full-service model before Madison Avenue zeroed in on his world-class hands. “If I had tried to sustain a career with my mug, I’d probably have starved,” he admits. His muscular mitts bring him the sportier accounts (he does Citizen watches, not Piaget, and subbed for Larry Hag-man’s hands for BVD), and he’s famous for his guts and endurance. “I’ve been hung upside down from a ceiling,” he brags. “Once [for Mattel] I had to hold an 18-pound crystal ball straight out for four minutes. That’s one of the times I saw God.”

To his employers, “I’m just a set of digits. They don’t even say hello, they say, ‘Can I see the hands?’ Then they shake my elbow. They don’t want to hurt the hands.” Out of the studio, White doesn’t go boogying because “someone could bump you with their bracelet and you’re done,” but working out is another story. Layering on five pairs of gloves, he lifts weights six days a week. In fact, he moved to L.A. this year to launch a second career as a personal trainer. Divorced and 40, he’s psyched for it. “I don’t need two Jaguars and a high-rise tower,” he says. “I’m a simple mother.”


Her tootsies support her art

To subsidize her underpaid art, modern dance, Sirot, 27, moonlights as a hand, foot and leg model (her calves didn’t get overdeveloped, she says, because she isn’t a classical ballerina). But she is still not out of the woods, investing an average of $35 a week on manicures and pedicures (left) and grossing barely $15,000 a year.

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